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Several months ago I accepted a job which was project-based.

I soon discovered that my projects required me to work very long hours. I'm talking about around 65-75 hours a week every week (these hours are illegal in my country). We frequently had calls e.g. at 7 p.m. and sometimes also at 10 p.m. Everyone on this project worked like this, not just me. It was due to a horrible project organization and scope creep imposed by the PMs.

I started losing my personal life. Normally I'm quite socially active, but if you get up at 6:30 am and work till 8-9 p.m. every day you are prevented from social activities.

Although I worked these crazy hours, we still had a major delay on the subproject I was leading. I identified and signaled this risk very early in the process and proposed solutions, which I can prove easily (discussion rounds, emails). All suggestions to limit, or at least stop increasing, the scope or to extent the project or increase the number of resources involved were turned down by the PMs.

At the end of the project, I started to limit a bit the number of hours spent in the office and stress what we need to finish on time even more, this was received very negatively by my PMs. I was accused of being negative and incompetent and trying to take over the role of the PM. I was told I basically ruined the project. They lied about me to my line manager. They told him I had just signaled problems in the previous 3 weeks, which is simply not true and can be proven wrong very easily (emails).

The truth is, I'm ashamed of both how the project was implemented (I had never worked in such an unstructured manner before) and the results. However, given the conditions imposed, I know I couldn't have achieved better results.

Then I quit. I feel bad. I did everything to secure the success of this project, didn't have a private life for months and now I'm lied about.

What should I have done differently?

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    "(yes, these hours are illegal in my country)" What is the penalty for companies that violate this rule? Could you have pursued this penalty? Why (not)? Dec 25 '19 at 20:09
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    "They told him I had just signaled problems in the previous 3 weeks, which is simply not true and can be proven wrong very easily (emails)." So, what happened when you proved it was a lie ?
    – Maxime
    Dec 26 '19 at 10:40
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    I'm voting to close this question. I feel there could be a great question (or two) hidden here, but this one isn't focused enough on the specific issue you're asking about and has too many extraneous details to have much future value. A potential good question from this could be "How do I, as a developer, raise concerns about the scope of the project?". Another one could be "How do I deal with deadlines that can't be met without working overtime?" or "How do I deal with meetings scheduled late at night?" Dec 26 '19 at 15:26
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    Are you asking what you should have done to protect your reputation, what you should have done to save the project, or what you should have done to change the culture (late meetings & working long hours) at your company? "What should I have done?" isn't a clear question. You state three different problems at the end of your post: I did everything to secure the success of this project, didn't have a private life for months and now I'm lied about.
    – BSMP
    Dec 26 '19 at 16:46
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    The only thing you should feel bad about is not quitting immediately. Dec 26 '19 at 16:59
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What should I have done differently?

From my experience, projects that require crazy (in my country even illegal) hours with lousy project management will fail anyway. And anybody but the project managers will be at fault obviously, although it's recognizable to anybody with a brain that they are in over their head. But since only the project managers communicate to the bosses... it will be your fault. Alone.

So if you see that, at least don't participate. Do not work crazy hours. Let their plan fail from the start. They miscalculated. Their problem.

That might mean you have to quit. But in the end, you quit anyway, so from my experience, it's better to do so early to save you from putting in all the hard work and get blamed anyway.

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    Years ago I joined a company and the first project I worked on was totally under budgeted because sales people not understanding the actual scope. It was meant to be a $75k job to the customer. I put in a huge amount of O/T (fortunately mostly paid) and when I sucessfully completed the project by the deadline it had cost $150k. I was fired for the privilege.
    – Peter M
    Dec 25 '19 at 18:08
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    And of course a very common feature of quitting almost anything, is that with hindsight you'd have come out better if you'd quit earlier. This is basically because doing almost anything is a calculated risk, and quitting is what you do when that risk fails to pay off. So, if you'd known it wouldn't pay off, you wouldn't make the calculated risk. The key here is to recognise the red flags that say "don't back this horse", and are recognisable in advance. There are projects that succeed on absurd hours, but not reliably enough to be a good bet. Dec 26 '19 at 3:14
  • Completely agree with the last 2 paragraphs. If poor project management requiring insane working hours/conditions were guaranteed to fail, however, the highly profitable video game industry would not exist in its current state. The only way to get rid of that status quo is (as you suggest) to not participate in it. +1
    – Starshine
    Dec 27 '19 at 16:53
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What should you have done differently?

If you are working 65-75 hours a week over a long period of time the project will fail. If you have a PM with a failing project who can’t limit feature creep, that just makes failure even more inevitable.

If you are paid by the hour, you can take the job, get paid for lots of hours, and take a long holiday when the project is declared failed and you’re out of a job. If you plan for that, and mentally don’t care about the failure, and you have no family, that’s Ok.

If you’re not paid for the hours, no ****ing way. You should have refused overtime from the start. The result for the project would have been the same. You might have left the company some months earlier.

If people lie about you, contact whoever is told the lies and set them straight. (You said you quit anyway, right?). Mention things like “slander” and “libel”. Won’t make much difference to you, but you really don’t want people to profit from spreading lies about you and damaging your reputation.

One more thing: You say "given the conditions imposed I know I could have achieved no better results." Actually, the conditions include you not having any experience with that kind of situation. If you ran into the exact same situation in your next job, you know now what you would have to do: Refuse any mad overtime, and make it absolutely clear to the level above PM that the project as planned is not achievable. And then by reducing the scope of the project and totally eliminating feature creep, helping the development team by removing all work not related to that project from their plates, motivating them and letting them do their job without stress, something worthwhile could have been achieved, something that is a lot better than what you did achieve.

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    Concerning your last paragraph: it was more tricky than that. After every recognizable scope creep I raised it up with corresponding people. After every one I was told: "You are right and we are absolutely not taking on our plates anything more". And then, sometimes hours later, the scope used to be increased massively again. Conversations brought nothing. And turning to "the people above PM" brought nothing either apart from turning me into the problem person. Dec 26 '19 at 7:16
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    @user3266857 Do not speak, write! Document every concern, do not keep them only at the meetings. Of course at the meetings you should express yourself, but just after that send an e-mail to the PM reminding the PMs of the concerns that you expressed at the meeting. That way, if the higher-ups are actually interested in knowing what happened (Warning: that does not always happen) then it is no longer your word against your PM's word (hint: the PM's word will usually carry more weight because the higher-ups trusted him to manage the project).
    – SJuan76
    Dec 27 '19 at 18:42
  • @user3266857 One thing you know now: When the scope was increased, the thing to do would have been to take a big red pen and strike right through it. If you used JIRA you can mark every task as finished with a resolution "Won't do".
    – gnasher729
    Dec 28 '19 at 14:50
  • @SJuan76. I did document everything, including my concerns. So now I have a beautiful documentation, fascinating emails. But nobody is interested in my beautiful documentation. Dec 28 '19 at 15:51
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What should I have done differently?

The only winning move is not to play.

You were put into a no-win situation. You say that yourself: "given the conditions imposed I know I could have achieved no better results." Your employer created the conditions where you not only spent your whole life at the office and lost your personal life, but also where you were setup for failure from the start. You knew that early, but they ignored your attempts to create conditions that would lead to success. In addition, your office appears to have a strong blame-based culture, where problems are treated as opportunities to throw each other under the bus rather than work for solutions. Given all this, this outcome was inevitable and only a matter of time.

If you realize you're in this situation, you can do what you tried and suggest measures that will be necessary to make the project successful (in discussions both with the PMs and your manager). But if your employer isn't receptive and you're hurtling toward major failure for which you'll inevitably be blamed, under illegal working conditions that are making you miserable to boot, you're stuck in an unwinnable game. Your employer has not created conditions under which you can possibly be successful, and that's their fault, not yours. At that point, it's time to look for a new job.

There are perhaps some questions you could have asked at the outset. Before accepting a job, it helps to ask about the expected and normal working hours of your team. Either you'll find out that you're getting into a situation where such long (or even illegal!) hours are expected, and can factor that into your negotiations and consideration of their offer, or you'll find out after you started that your employer blatantly misrepresented the working conditions.

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You should have escalated your concerns sooner(go above the PMs).

Problem with this that you need to be 100% certain you are right when you do this since this will make you many enemies, but if we are honest this was your duty. You are not hired to make friends, you are hired to try to give best possible outcome to the people paying you.

Same thing with feature creep. You should have fought it when it was suggested, not after the fact. Again this is hard, especially since I have many times been in situations where entire room is delusional wrt project planning and only reasonable person sounds like a crazy person.

That being said it is hard for a individual soldier to change the course of World War and it is hard for individual to change a course of a badly managed project. Treat this as a learning experience, and next time try to escalate things faster.

Additionally (and this is hard) try to see if people that are lying about you make some good points about why you performed badly on the project. It is not fun to receive negative feedback, but try to see if any of their complaints are reasonable and try to fix them in your future work.

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    I escalated early - when the scope started to grow. I did it diplomatically. And I was very criticized for that. Dec 25 '19 at 20:40
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    @user3266857 then you did your job - sometimes things are outside your control Dec 25 '19 at 20:49
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There are books about this, such as Edward Yourdon's Death March.

I'm going to say some major things you could do differently, rather than "should", because "should" implies you've done something wrong, and that's really for you to decide. If you've not broken the law or hurt anyone, it's really up to you. So, arguably you should have reported them to the proper authorities for the working-time thing. Both as a legal matter, and an ethical matter of protecting others from what was done to you. Of course you don't want to be the whistle-blower who ruins the company and everyone loses their awful jobs, but the official position, embodied in your working-time laws, is that these awful jobs are literally worse than no job at all. You may or may not agree now that you're on the far side of one such job.

As for "coulds":

Like everyone says, you could have declined the absurd hours to begin with. You take the job, they tell you to work 70 hours in week 1, and that everyone else is doing it. You say "no thanks, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff I wouldn't do that", and walk back out the door. They might be a bit annoyed that their hiring process got you to that point without mentioning the hours, but you don't feel guilty, and they've barely met you so they have other people to hate more.

You could have raised the show-stopping issues with your line manager as they came up. The PMs need not be in a position to tell a lie to your line manager that you've only been telling them their project is absurd for 3 weeks, when in fact it has been several months. You could have told your line manager that their project was absurd at the same time you told them. Then, your line manager would have recognised them for pitiful blame-avoidant liars as soon as they said it.

This doesn't mean you have to CC everything to your line manager, but if you're facing unreasonable demands then it is part of your line manager's job to deal with the PMs to help manage your goals, your workload, and what counts as "success" for you in your job. If your job is impossible then it's your line manager's job to make it possible. Your line manager might also have a general interest in the company's projects succeeding. That doesn't mean your line manager would be able to deal with this bad project management, since the whole company sounds awful. But you could have given it a shot on the grounds that it's how things are "supposed" to work, and professionally speaking there's something to be said for giving everyone a chance to do what they're supposed to.

If you think your line manager would have ignored all of this, or agreed with the PMs all along, then in a sense it doesn't make a whole lot of difference that they are lying now, because your ex-line manager is useless to you anyway. So, you can stop worrying about the lying ;-)

If you respect your your line manager but think they were hampered by ignorance, then you could even have given them the evidence of the lies at your point of exit. Won't help solve the problems, necessarily, but at least that one line manager now has a better idea what they're dealing with, and what their other reports are still facing. It may be too late for you to do that now -- perhaps you don't have access to all that email any more.

Both of these points about informing your line manager might also apply to informing the level above these PMs. But, reporting to your line manager what you're doing is always expected, whereas jumping over someone's head to report them to their boss is kind of an aggressive move even when you're in the right.

As a professional, regardless of the hours and the politics, you could have declined to work on a project you didn't believe in. But, you don't have to succeed all the time. It's OK to take a big risk on something that will probably fail, provided that whoever is paying for it consents. You took a shot, it didn't work out. So, believing that something will succeed is nice-to-have but it's an unreasonably high bar to apply as an absolute rule before working on a difficult project.

Similarly, as a professional, you could have declined to work on a project that was managed according to principles you didn't believe in: unreasonable workloads; refusal to listen to the concerns of the technical experts (you) or to acknowledge your best appraisal of the risk; refusal to address massive scope creep. Learn from this experience to identify the difference between "difficult but it might work", and "even if this somehow starts to succeed, poor organisation will just drag it back into failure".

What you could not do, is fix the mistakes of a group of PMs who have all agreed amongst themselves a bad way of doing things, and are determined to do them that way. So there's no need to feel guilty about not having done that.

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  • "Of course you don't want to be the whistle-blower who ruins the company and everyone loses their awful jobs" - I assume the implication is that you don't want to be "seen as" such a person responsible for the company's failure... Since, obviously, it's the company's fault, not the whistleblower's.
    – V2Blast
    Dec 27 '19 at 21:30
  • @V2Blast: that's true, but not what I was trying to get at, which is that whoever is the proximal cause of something happening is at risk of feeling some guilt, no matter whether they're at fault. Even if your employer sucks and deserves to suffer, and your colleagues are better off in the long run with a better employer, it'd still be a big deal to decide to pull the trigger that shuts down the company and causes temporary hardship for some (perhaps many) of your colleagues. May 25 '20 at 21:51
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The PM's are at fault here. The best you can do is provide schedule information of your task to them more frequently. You can hold meetings with them to discuss or ask about schedules.

The PM needs to ask the developers for their time estimates, at the beginning. The PMs should check with their developers about the completion estimates, at a more frequent pace like weekly. This gives the PM and the stakeholders information about any schedule deviations as soon as possible, so they can make modifications (to either schedule or requirements). Having to work long hours is usually a sign of poor scheduling or project maintenance.

As a developer, the best you can do is give the PM an estimate of task duration at the beginning, and let the PM know of any schedule deviations as soon as possible. If you run into issues or perhaps your estimate wasn't accurate at the time, let the PM know. Time estimates are more unreliable at the beginning of a project and become more accurate as the project develops.

You could be proactive and schedule weekly meetings with your team for progress update. This will allow your team to know how the project is fairing and allow other team members to help anybody. Don't rely on the PM for the team's success. Have the team responsible for the team's success.

I would definitely start looking for a job with better work environment. I've interviewed a companies where the interviewer said that if I want a life, I should look elsewhere.

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  • It doesn't sound like this strategy could work in the OP's case. Likewise, when I was young I was at a place where my estimate was simply rejected, and the engineering manager said, "no, here's your schedule instead with half the time". Dec 26 '19 at 15:37
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You said you did everything you could. You worked crazy hours and you identified risks at an early stage.

Going forward, when you make suggestions or identify risks keep a record. Make it into a report that you can show your line manager and stakeholders at the end of the project.

Don't rely on finding past emails, you don't have to prove anything. Just keep a separate list with the date, issue/risk, your proposed solution and the PMs response or action taken. Keep it non-personal and don't use first person.

If the PM ignores you, and issues you identified start to affect the project, take your list to the line manager and complain.

If you continue to be ignored, or the line manager listens to the PM over you and it makes you really unhappy, then it's time to leave the company. - Don't worry about the PMs lies, people like that will be exposed for what they are eventually.

At the end of the project, put the report somewhere everyone can see it, or send it directly to the line manager and CC a stakeholder if the company is small.

There is one other thing you can do differently, or rather one thing you can do to prevent this in the future. Work on communication skills.

If you weren't listened to then don't blame the other person, blame yourself. Sure they might be a jerk and you may have explained things clearly however, everyone has a different point of view and understanding.

Someone with excellent communication skills should be able to convince anyone to do anything. What helped me and my communication skills was studying social engineering and taking a course on technical management.

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  • Out of interest, what happens when two people with excellent communication skills disagree? Dec 26 '19 at 3:52
  • They should not take it personally and find a compromise, or let someone else make the final decision.
    – flexi
    Dec 26 '19 at 17:30
  • I just mean, what happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object? You can convince me to agree that we'll do X, and I can convince you to agree to do "not X". What is the outcome? I seek to disprove by contradiction, your claim that since I have excellent communication skills, I could convince you to do anything! I think there's a limit to that Derren Brown stuff. May 25 '20 at 21:38

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